Qatar became the first country in the Middle East to be given the honor of staging football’s biggest event after beating off competition from the United States, Australia, South Korea and Japan.
The Gulf state will host Egypt on Thursday in a jubilant frame of mind, but Egyptians say that they themsleves were fully focused on football matters, demoting potential World Cup celebrations to a marginal role.
“The friendly game against Qatar is very important. It will help us prepare well for the African Cup of Nations qualifier against South Africa (in March 2011),” Egyptian FA Chairman Samir Zaher said.
“It is a football game in the first place. Egypt’s priority will be to play football.”
Egypt were initially scheduled to play Jordan but the match was called off and Qatar were drawn up as a replacement.
The African champions will be looking to build on their 3-0 home victory over Australia last month, which gave them some respite following a disastrous start to their 2012 Nations Cup qualifying campaign.
Egypt was only able to gain one point in the two opening Group G games, drawing 1-1 at home to Sierra Leone before slumping to a stunning 1-0 defeat to tiny Niger, who are 92 places below Egypt in FIFA’s national team rankings.
Notable absences are expected on Thursday.
Zamalek wizard Mahmoud Abdel-Razek ‘Shikabala,’ who is enjoying a superb run of form, was left out of Egypt’s squad for the Qatar game after allegedly feigning injury to skip November’s Australia friendly.
European-based duo Mohamed Zidan and Ahmed Elmohamady, who play for Germany’s Borussia Dortmund and England's Sunderland, respectively, could not make the match due to their club commitments.
Qatar are eyeing a morale-boosting win as they get ready for their 2011 AFC Asian Cup adventure. The tournament will take place on their home soil from 7-29 January.
They will play in Group A, as will Kuwait, China and Uzbekistan.
Qatar’s French coach Bruno Metsu is under immense pressure after his side failed to reach the Gulf Cup of Nations semi-finals, finishing third in their Group behind Saudi Arabia and eventual champions Kuwait.
He will have to do on Thursday without attacking midfielder Hussein Yasser.
The Egyptian-born footballer, who plays for Cairo giants Zamalek, said he would not be able to take part in the match due to a shoulder injury.
The Pharaohs have a perfect record against the small Gulf state, having won four out of their six games while holding only twice.